Fr. John Fullerton was appointed to a 6-year term as the Superior of the U.S. District of the Society of Saint Pius X. He began his term on August 15, 2020, and sat down with sspx.org for an interview outlining his experiences both in the US as well as Australia, where he was formerly the District Superior, as well as his goals for District.
Welcome back to the U.S. District, Father. For our readers who are unfamiliar with your background, perhaps you can start by telling us a bit about yourself.
Thank you. I was born and raised in northern New York. After high school, I went to university for five years and studied physics and civil engineering. Then I was commissioned in the Air Force and served for four years as a Weather Officer. During this time, I was discerning a call to the priesthood. As a result, I entered St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Winona, MN, in 1990. After I was ordained in 1996, I was assigned to St. Joseph’s in Armada, MI, where the SSPX was establishing a new boarding school, which would eventually become Notre Dame de LaSalette Academy in 2005.
In 2002, I was appointed District Superior for the United States. After my six-year term expired in 2008, I was assigned as Rector at St. Mary’s Academy and College until 2012. I was then nominated District Superior of Australia and New Zealand, where I’ve been for eight years.
Now, by God’s grace, I am back home in the U.S. District. Though much has changed, much is still the same. It is good to see some familiar faces among the priests and laity. Still, it is also exciting to meet many new people. The growth of Tradition here is quite encouraging, while at the same time holds some unique challenges.
When you look around the U.S. District, what strikes you differently this time around, especially regarding said growth?
Since I left in 2008, there has been evident growth within the District. We have more priests, religious, chapels, and schools to meet the needs of the faithful. As District Superior, one of the challenges is to see that our priories and chapels are appropriately staffed, which includes addressing the logistics of making sure our priests can serve the broadest geographic area practicable without exhausting themselves.
That is a good thing, of course. It was always a challenge to ensure availability for offering the sacraments to those who wanted them in years past. While we can never have enough vocations, I am pleased that the U.S. District has continued to grow and foster an environment where young men called by God to the priesthood can be properly formed and serve the Church.
On a larger scale, the attitude of the wider Catholic Church and Her authorities has changed considerably. When I first took the helm as District Superior in 2002, most Catholics thought of the Society of Saint Pius X as a pariah. Many called us schismatics, including other traditional Catholics. Today it is good to see so many Catholics, clerical and lay, who do not regularly attend our chapels or attend our conferences and retreats; they visit our clergy, purchase and use our publications from Angelus Press. It is impossible to visit a Tridentine Mass in this country without seeing Catholics using our 1962 Angelus Press Missal.
We stayed true to our roots throughout the years, and people took notice. It hasn’t always been easy, and there is a tremendous amount of work to be done. But I am happy to see the fruits of everyone’s hard work and for the vision of our founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, to continue spreading throughout the world.
What are some of your goals over the next six years?
First and foremost, the U.S. District, like the wider Society, is committed to the salvation of souls. We need to reach as many souls as possible and provide the traditional sacraments and catechesis of the Church. We need to continue to provide spiritual nourishment for them, and graces come through the priest. The Society’s particular charism involves the Catholic priesthood, which means our primary duty is to help priests—here in the U.S. District and even priests outside of the SSPX who are confused by the current crisis. We do this through retreats, advice, education, and instruction (e.g., how to say the traditional Mass).
Second, I want the U.S. District to serve as a model for the rest of the Church. That includes, but is not limited to, honesty concerning accusations of abuse. I believe we have handled credible allegations in the past with fairness to both victims and the accused. Of course, there is always room for improvement. That is why we have our Plan to Protect in place, which I will continue to oversee to ensure that it remains in line with best practices. In Australia, we had similar programs, and child protection was a high priority. Plan to Protect will help us do the same here.
Third, I hope to continue the excellent work that has been done reaching out to other traditional communities and the wider Church. God willing, we can be an example for others of Tradition. This apostolic work does not mean compromising our principles but instead communicating what we stand for and why to new audiences. Sadly, many Catholics still have an incomplete or distorted vision of us and our work. In the age of social media, a lot of misinformation is spread easily, which we need to respond to quickly. The District has been doing good work to disseminate our message, both in print and online. But as the District continues to grow, so do our apostolates. Through the help and generosity of our friends and benefactors, we will have the resources to continue promoting the message of Archbishop Lefebvre with the clarity, timeliness, and professionalism that befits an organization of our size.
This is not new but simply the message that Our Lord gave to Holy Mother Church. The Society of Saint Pius X is a Catholic work dedicated to serving the Church. Through your generosity, spiritually and materially, this work will continue and bear even greater fruit.
What was it like in Australia as the Covid-19 crisis spread worldwide? What is your plan here for the future?
In Australia, the restrictions/limitations varied from state to state, much like here. Some states were relatively open, while some were shut down. One big difference I seemed to notice was that our schools stayed open in Australia, with almost no restrictions. We had to suspend Mass in some places. However, our priests were still dedicated to visiting our faithful to nourish their souls with the sacraments.
Before my arrival here, the former superior put out a set of guidelines for how to address the Covid-19 crisis in April of this year. These guidelines are no longer in effect, though we will, of course, continue to monitor the situation. In most states we are able to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and provide the sacraments for our faithful. I would, of course, encourage the faithful to use common sense. Sickness can be a valid reason for missing Mass on the holydays.
As for the availability of Holy Mass and the sacraments across the country, the District is not backing down. Some of our chapels have won important legal victories in recent months against rather inhuman regulations that were overbroad and discriminatory. We will do all that we can to keep our doors open. It would be unbecoming of our mission if we simply abandoned the Catholic faithful in the face of discriminatory rules that allow eateries, bars, entertainment venues to remain open or protests to continue while requiring churches to close. Our goal is first and foremost to ensure the faithful have available all the necessary sacraments Holy Mother Church has given us.
Do you have any final thoughts you wish to share?
Yes. I would ask those reading these remarks for their prayers. I am honored to once again serve as District Superior. Still, I am also aware of the immense challenge that lies before me. I know there are bumps in the road ahead of us. But the foundation of the Faith will always remain solid. With the grace of God, the building will continue, just as it has with my predecessors and my fellow priests.
May Our Lord Jesus Christ, through the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, continue to guide and protect us. Amen.